VANCOUVER — After a period of wheeling and dealing, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning feels he's checked some items off his off-season to-do list.
Benning was busy as the NHL's free agent market opened on Wednesday, adding several new players and re-signing some existing talent.
"I think we got younger, we got faster," he said of the moves. "We wanted to get bigger on the back end and I think we accomplished those things."
One of the pieces of business completed on Wednesday was a contract for defenceman Tucker Poolman. The Canucks signed the 28-year-old from Dubuque, Iowa, to a four-year deal with an average annual value of US$2.5 million.
Poolman had one assist in 39 regular-season appearances for the Winnipeg Jets last year, and added another two points (one goal, one assist) in eight playoff contests.
Vancouver also inked a one-year deal with 36-year-old goalie Jaroslav Halak, who posted a 9-6-5 record with the Boston Bruins last season.
The contract includes $1.5 million in salary and $1.5 million in potential performance bonuses.
The Canucks are also bringing back veteran defenceman Luke Schenn on a two-year deal that carries an average annual value of $850,000.
Schenn, 31, spent the last two seasons with the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, and registered four points (two goals, two assists) and 51 penalty minutes in 2020-21.
The native of Saskatoon previously played 18 games for the Canucks at the end of the 2018-19 season following a trade to Vancouver by the Anaheim Ducks.
Wednesday also saw Vancouver re-sign forward Brandon Sutter and defenceman Travis Hamonic.
Hamonic signed a two-year contract that carries and annual average value of $3 million.
The 30-year-old from St. Malo, Man., had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 38 outings for Vancouver last season.
"(Hamonic's) a proven top-four NHL defenceman so it was important that we got him re-signed and bring him back," Benning said.
Sutter, 32, returns to the Canucks on a one-year contract worth $1.25 million.
"We just felt like some of the guys were traded were kind of some veteran players that had a calming effect on our group," Benning said. "And having Brandon back is good for our group. He’s well liked in the dressing room."
Sutter has played six seasons in Vancouver but his tenure has been marred by various injuries. Last year, he put up 12 points (nine goals, three assists) in 43 games.
Benning made some big moves in the days leading up to free agency, too.
Ahead of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, he acquired forward Jason Dickinson from the Dallas Stars in exchange for a third-round pick in the entry draft.
The GM then dealt Vancouver’s first-round pick in Friday’s entry draft and forwards Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel to the Arizona Coyotes for winger Conor Garland and veteran defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Canucks then signed Garland to a five-year, $24.75-million deal on Tuesday.
Later on Tuesday, Benning sent blue-liner Nate Schmidt to the Winnipeg Jets for a third-round selection in 2022, clearing out some cap space.
Vancouver made additional room for new salaries by buying out goalie Braden Holtby and forward Jake Virtanen.
Holtby, 31, signed a one-year, $2-million deal with the Dallas Stars on Wednesday.
Benning said Wednesday that the Canucks wanted to "turn the team over" this off-season, and have done so by adding two top-nine forwards, a top-four defenceman and depth throughout the lineup.
He doesn't expect the changes to impact the style of play on the ice, however.
"I think we’re going to play the same style of game that we’ve always played, but we’ve given (head coach Travis Green) more depth, more flexibility," Benning said.
The GM still has some work to do before players head back to training camps this fall -- namely signing Vancouver's young stars Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, both restricted free agents, to new deals.
Moves the club has made so far have given management more room to complete those contracts, Benning said.
"I think we were able to accomplish a lot of things," he said. "Now we’ve got to work on getting Petey and Quinn and Jason Dickinson and Olli Juolevi signed. If something else comes up, we’ll still continue to look at it, but I feel pretty good about where we’re at right now."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2021.